- They’re the best way to stay connected to salespeople and drive pipeline opportunities forward.
- They’re a low-value activity and should be skipped when more important priorities pop up.
- They’re a dreaded but necessary evil.
Your answer probably depends on whether you have a defined coaching process to get the most out of these meetings. According to a sales-culture survey of more than 300 sales organizations across North America, which Fusion Learning conducted in 2013, nearly all sales leaders (97 percent) had one-on-ones with team members, yet 40 percent rated themselves 6 out of 10 or lower at conducting these meetings.
At Fusion, we liken one-on-one meetings that lack a defined process to the old sleight-of-hand “shell game.” In the shell game, the salesperson predicts which opportunities his or her manager will ask about (what shell will be lifted) and comes prepared with excellent examples of what’s been done to advance those particular opportunities. It doesn’t matter whether the examples are outdated. As long as the sales manager is satisfied, the salesperson can carry on with the status quo.
I speak from experience. My first sales manager and I met every Monday morning. These meetings were very friendly; we discussed accounts and I provided updates. I shared what I thought I was supposed to share. In retrospect, I realize we were playing the shell game. We would move the shells around looking for the pebble that wasn’t there. There was little coaching value in these meetings for either one of us.
Two years later, a new sales manager was assigned to our team. These meetings were similar but with one difference: he took notes and put them in a file folder labeled with my name. The next week, when he inquired about an account, I told a story similar to the previous week’s. He referenced his notes and I started to squirm a little.
“No worries,” he said. “Let’s discuss how you are going to move it forward this week.” Silly me – I showed up on week three and tried a similar tack. He was nice about it, but I realized the game had changed, and I needed to follow through on my commitments. My manager helped me and the rest of the team win business by staying focused and accountable. No more shell game.
At Fusion Learning, we know that world class one-on-ones are about dialogues and not two concurrent monologues. The conversation must meet these goals:
- Focus simultaneously on business priorities and the individual salesperson.
- Look to the future and not just backward at past performance.
- Be strategic first and tactical second. Too often, one-on-ones take a tactical and operational approach. There must be a balance with a strategic perspective.
- Hold the meetings at predictable and consistent intervals. Salespeople thrive on a steady, predictable cadence, helping them stay focused and remain accountable.
Here are six specific steps to help you conduct more productive, collaborative, and successful one-one-one meetings with your salespeople.
- Big Picture – Start the meeting by connecting with the salesperson and asking a high-level, strategic question. For example, you could ask him or her to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 his or her stress level or performance. It is not about the number, it is about the dialogue that results from the number.
- Green Flags – Ask the salesperson to share two recent accomplishments or actions he or she is proud of (for example, closing a deal or getting great feedback from a customer on a proposal). Then share two things the salesperson did that week that you’re proud of (for example, securing a meeting with an elusive prospect or updating opportunities in the CRM system). Discuss, give praise, and allow the salesperson to celebrate the successes achieved since you two last met.
- Red Flags – Next, follow the same process as in the Green Flags step, except this time focus on things the salesperson will improve. The salesperson should begin, “Here’s what I think I need to improve or do differently,” and then you can offer your own perspective. Help your salesperson create an action plan for improvement.
- Customers/Pipeline/Activities/Results – The trick here is to remain focused on all aspects of the salesperson’s activity – researching, prospecting, holding meetings, writing proposals, and closing – as opposed to locking in on one specific deal in the pipeline. (By the way, many sales leaders skip the first three steps and start here at the tactical level. Don’t do that.)
- Help Needed – Keep track of the commitments you make to help the salesperson, and follow through with them.
- Action Plan – During the meeting, note any action to which the salesperson commits. At the end of the meeting, have the salesperson repeat these commitments. Let him or her know you will review the action plan at your next meeting.
To learn more about how you can improve your one-on-one coaching meetings, check out chapter 5 of Fusion Learning’s book, Engage Me: Strategies from the Sales Effectiveness Source. It includes best practices, examples, and a template to use in structuring your meeting.
Alyson Brandt is president of Fusion Learning USA.